A spate of killings at schools in Peru that authorities say were targeted for extortion serve as a stark reminder of how organized crime preys on educational centers throughout the region as a source of both income and new recruits.
On May 22, the director of a private school in Peru's capital city Lima was shot dead in front of students on the campus grounds, reported AFP. Earlier that week, gunmen had also killed two security guards at a nearby school.
The motive for the murders has not been confirmed; however, police said local criminal groups were extorting both of the schools where the killings took place, reported The Associated Press. Schools in Lima pay extortion fees of up to $10,000 per month, according to police.
It is difficult to estimate just how many schools in Peru are subject to extortion rackets, due to the low reporting rate for this crime. A former police general told El Popular that an estimated 87 percent of the school directors who were extorted in 2014 decided not to report the crime due to fear of reprisals.
On May 25, Juan Navarro, the mayor of the district in Lima where the murders occurred, called for the deployment of federal troops in order to protect citizens from extortion gangs, reported The Associated Press. "It is a request on behalf of thousands of parents and children, as well as hundreds of school directors," Navarro said.
InSight Crime Analysis
Unfortunately, Peru is not the only Latin American country that has seen criminal groups expand their sphere of influence to the classroom. In Honduras, street gangs have been known to recruit children as young as six and rob teachers at gunpoint on their way into school. In Mexico, criminal organizations have reportedly charged teachers, students and school administrators fees in order to allow them to attend school.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion
There is also evidence that the number of children and adolescents affiliated with criminal groups may be on the rise in some parts of the region. Guatemalan authorities arrested 36 child assassins during the first quarter of 2014, a six-fold increase from the same period in 2013. Illegal armed groups in countries like Colombia often recruit children because they are seen as a low-cost and highly expendable source of labor.